As we prepare for the series against Boston tomorrow, we had the pleasure of featuring a guest writer that will give Hawks Talk an outlook on the Hawks-Celtics First Round match-up.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Boston Celtics
Jeff Teague #0 of the Atlanta Hawks drives between Jared Sullinger #7 and Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena on November 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.
In this match-up, we have a great series on our hands featuring two of the Eastern Conference’s best coaches in Mike Budenholzer (Hawks) and Brad Stevens (Celtics). After a franchise record 60 win season and making their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks are back looking to continue the progression of last season’s magical run. Although they finished 48-34, the Hawks started turning to settle in a groove as they finished the season winning 15 of their final 21 games.
Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics drives against Tiago Splitter #11 of the Atlanta Hawks during the second quarter at TD Garden on December 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
As for the Celtics, they were looking to build off their surprising second half spark which earned them a 7th seed in the Eastern Conference before losing to the eventual conference champions, Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston kept pace in a tight Eastern Conference race throughout the second half of the season and after taking 9 of their final 13 games, they are looking to earn their first playoff series win under the Brad Stevens era.
Keys for the Hawks:
Avoid Slow Starts:
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) gets past Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (25) as he scores in the first half of an NBA game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Although the Hawks have finished the season well, there were a few wins Atlanta earned in a second half comeback effort or even finishing the game in a close victory against some teams who were preparing for the NBA Draft instead of a post-season run. Even in their win against Boston just a week ago, the Celtics owned a 12 point lead in the second half; however, Atlanta would limit them to 36 points in the half and earn a huge victory which gave them the series advantage at 3-1 and the opportunity to host the First Round series.
In the playoffs, slow starts will hurt this team if they don’t find a way to start fast. With the prior experience, I expect Atlanta to learn from past mistakes; however, if the Hawks aren’t aggressive from the start, that could haunt their chances in the series overall.
Contain Boston’s guards:
For a team that’s solid on defending opposing guards, the Celtics have exposed Atlanta’s back court at times throughout the regular season games against the two teams. Against the Hawks, point guard Isaiah Thomas is averaging (20.8 points per game, 6 assists per game, 2 rebounds per game) which caused Atlanta a lot of issues in their match-ups.
As the series begin, Atlanta will probably lean on their solid defenders in Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore to slow down Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart. Another wild card player to watch is Avery Bradley as well. Overall, Boston’s back court is a very talented unit and the Hawks will have to make the proper adjustments to win the series.
Defend The Perimeter:
Atlanta has seen there good and bad days throughout the season defending teams behind the arc. Against Boston, they are averaging 10 three pointers made per game, which is a very high rate in any basketball game and with a high scoring team like the Celtics, defending the perimeter will be vital. Jae Crowder and Evan Turner are two of the biggest threats to give the Hawks a defensive nightmare in this series and they will need Mike Scott or Thabo Sefolosha to prevent either player from causing a huge impact through the series.
If the Hawks are going to win this series, limiting their effective outside shooting game will be one of the keys going forward.
Keys for the Celtics:
Force turnovers from the Hawks
Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson dove on a loose ball after he and Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder forced Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap to lose the ball due to the Celtics duo’s defensive pressure to force the turnover during the first quarter. Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Although the Hawks have won the regular season series 3-1, one of the keys that could help Boston earn an advantage in this series is forcing offensive turnovers. Against the Hawks, they have forced at least 17 turnovers from their opponent and for an offense that’s built on ball movement and looking for the next available shot, causing havoc on defense can earn the Celtics a crucial series victory.
Contain Atlanta’s Front-court:
In their match-ups this season, Paul Millsap and Al Horford have owned Boston’s front court. Paul Millsap averaged (22.5 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game, 3 assists per game, and 2 blocks) and Al Horford averages (14.3 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, 5 assists per game, and 1.5 blocks per game).
Al Horford and Paul Millsap are respectably one of the best front courts in the Eastern Conference so if the Celtics plan on winning this series, they will have to rattle the All Star front court of the Hawks. Although Boston is actually one of the top units defensively against big men, Atlanta’s core group presents problems for most teams around the NBA. Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, and the front court has a tough task on their hands.
Dominate the Boards:
One of the benefits of playing the Hawks is their lack of consistency in the rebounding department. In three of the four match-ups against Atlanta, the Hawks were out-rebounded offensively by the Celtics and that creates second chance opportunities. Atlanta was one of the worst teams against Power Forwards & Centers and Brad Stevens must find a way to get his big men involved in Boston’s offensive game-plan this series.
Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, and company will have to step up their game for a intense series with the Atlanta Hawks. If there’s one huge flaw to exploit with them, it’s their lack of consistency when defending opposing bigs and the Celtics better use this to their advantage if they plan on advancing to face the winner of the Cleveland Cavaliers/ Detroit Pistons series.
Atlanta Hawks in 7 Games
D’Sean Marshall (@JD_Marsh22)